It was not quite town meeting, but the May 24 public hearing on Waldoboro’s warrant articles had plenty of questions and comments, a little bit of passion, and continued calls for fiscal restraint.

One issue with this year’s municipal budget is the lack of fund balance money to lower the tax rate, as had been done in the past few years. That is compounded by increases in health insurance and fuel costs, and reductions in revenues, such as excise tax.

The amount of money to be raised from property taxes for the municipal budget is proposed at $1,699,569, up 19.6 percent from last year. Revenues in the proposed budget that will go to voters June 14 are down 13 percent.

Eileen Dondlinger, finance director and interim town manager, described the cost increases: Gasoline and diesel fuel is up $27,231; heating oil is up $27,960; health insurance is up $30,732; and the Maine State Retirement program will increase $14,641. Despite those increases, department heads managed to keep their budgets flat.

“That’s $100,560 that somehow the department heads worked to lower the budget even with those increases,” Dondlinger said. “But the very bottom line issue, yes, we are higher. We don’t have the fund balance to reduce the tax level.”

Several people at the meeting encouraged passage of Question 3, which asks “Should any municipal budget question fail to pass, shall the Town authorize the Selectmen to expend an amount not to exceed 3/12 of the previous year’s appropriation?”

Dondlinger said: “If you’re going to vote no on any article at the referendum, you should vote yes on this one. This allows time to put together a new proposal and go to referendum. Last year when they voted down the 3/12ths, we had to go to an open meeting to establish a budget for July 1.”

The warrant articles were reviewed line by line.

On the assessor’s budget, Duncan Morrell asked if several towns could share an assessor, or hire an outside assessor to save money.

On the police budget, John Higgins asked if funding for that department could be cut.

“I believe we have too many police officers in this town,” Higgins said. “We still do not utilize the county to any extent. We pay a large amount in county tax, and I feel we could cut somewhere in this department and use some of the county resources we’re paying for.”

Police Chief William Labombarde said the statewide average for police officers is 1.7 officers per 1,000 residents. He said Waldoboro’s ratio was 1.4 officers per 1,000 residents.

Labombarde said the county will not provide Waldoboro with the same level of 24-hour service. He said Waldoboro’s police budget is in good shape compared to budgets for other Midcoast police departments.

Carl Cunningham asked if the police officers hired in previous years were funded through the fund balance. Dondlinger said the fund balance went to lower the tax rate for the entire budget.

There were several questions about pay-per-bag garbage disposal when the transfer station article was reviewed. Concerns are that pay-per-bag could result in more garbage along the road, and that is just a shift in costs. Selectmen said they are studying the issue, and Public Works Director John Daigle is gathering information on pay-per-bag.

Though they may support the programs, several residents urged cuts to the recreation department (Community Services Department). Morrell asked if the department could be self-funded, not just with user fees but with donors and advertising. Pat Chapman asked if the recreation director could be a part-time position. The police chief and EMS director noted that Recreation Director Kyle Santheson helps the town in many ways.

“Kyle is invaluable to our town office, to our whole operation,” said EMS Director Mike Monck. “As far as EMS and fire department and the EMA position that he has – he is irreplaceable…. It’s not just the rec department position you’re cutting, you’re cutting some arms off our system.”

On the library warrant article, Dick Mogul said he did not support using $77,000 in town funds to support a private organization.  

Several people spoke in favor of the library, including Claire Bowley, who said: “In times of economic strife, the library is the best deal you will ever find. Everyone comes there to use the computers. There are many resources. There are movies that are free. There are audio books. There’s something there for everyone.”

On the articles for social service agencies, Morrell said he would hold the town to its pledge to look at providing funding for these organizations by listing them on tax bills, and having townspeople decide how much to contribute. “I’m going to help all I can and we’re going to watch and see how much actually gets raised versus what goes down…. I think you’re going to be pleasantly surprised as to what’s going to happen,” Morrell said.

Civility

There were several comments throughout the night about civility toward elected officials and concerned citizens who have participated in many meetings in the last year.

Part of this came when a department head called the Concerned Citizens of Waldoboro by the acronym CROWs, replacing “citizens” with “residents.” Higgins and Bob Kanewske asked the Board of Selectmen to respond.

“It sounds like a group of people in this town who are sincerely trying to do some good things were being looked at, or at least talked about, with disdain,” Kanewske said.

Selectmen, however, did not seem to know about the controversy.

Katie Winchenbach said: “We are a group of citizens that are concerned about the town. Concerned Citizens of Waldoboro. CCOW. Somewhere along the line someone has changed it and is calling us CROWs. And that’s very wrong and distasteful. And that’s what we’re talking about. They’re calling us concerned “residents” just so they can call us CROWs. And we don’t like that. We’re trying to do something that’s good in this town. And we don’t need stuff like that.”

“I’m the one that said it,” Daigle said. “I didn’t mean anything by it. That’s what’s going around town…. So I’m sorry,”

At the end of the public hearing, Chapman, a former town clerk, said she treated everyone who came into the town office with respect and dignity.

“I feel that’s been lost in this town,” Chapman said. “After what I have observed attending selectmen’s meeting and budget meetings in the past few months, I am appalled at how some of the selectmen and town employees do not show respect to so many citizens who ask questions or do not agree with them on what is being discussed at these meetings.”

Chapman said selectmen and town officials forgot that taxpayers are the boss. She encouraged residents to make their voices heard at the polls.

“We left a lot of these meetings feeling like second-class citizens,” Chapman said. “You are representing the taxpayers and citizens and should vote as the majority of the people want, not what you personally want.”

Copies of the warrant are available at the town’s website, waldoboromaine.org, and in the annual report, which is now available at the town office and library.

Election Day is Tuesday, June 14 from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. at the town office/fire station. Absentee ballots are available at the town office.

Some proposed department budgets include:

• Office of Town Manager, $94,575, down 3 percent

•Assessing Department, $77,521, up 0.2 percent

• Finance Department, $124,443, down 5 percent

• Office of Town Clerk, $46,282, down 8 percent

• Community Services Department, $49,927, down 2.8 percent

• Department of EMS, $481,595, up 1.3 percent

• Fire Department, $134,173, down 0.2 percent

• Police Department, $484,403, up 2 percent

• Planning and Development, $61,221, down 1.8 percent

• Road and Bridges, $546,896, up 3.8 percent

• Transfer Station, $202,436, down 7.9 percent

• Capital Improvement Program, $268,798, down 17 percent